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String Quartet (2011) by Steven Snowden

Performed by The Aeolus Quartet 04-25-2011 Austin, TX.

Appalachian Polaroids was initially inspired by the controversial portrait photography of Shelby Lee Adams (b. 1950). Though sometimes criticized for perpetuating the hillbilly stereotype of rural Appalachia, I feel that his photographs often illuminate the quiet resilience of these remote mountain communities. As a native of the Ozark Mountain countryside, I have always felt a strong connection with my neighbors to the East. In Appalachian Polaroids, I chose to create my own musical portrait of the unique mix of hardship and joy that comes with living an isolated rural life.

This piece begins with a 1976 field recording of Sheila Kay Adams (no relation to Shelby Lee) singing the popular folk song Black is the Color in Asheville, North Carolina. The quartet quietly enters as an integrated component of the recording, playing with the wood of their bows to create a slightly noisy effect, similar to the tape hiss present in the old equipment used to record Sheila’s stunning voice. Their sound gradually becomes more brilliant until the group finally emerges with crowing figures reminiscent of Appalachian fiddle playing. However, they also carry with them remnants of Sheila’s own unique singing style. These attributes, (which include sliding/scooping to and from certain pitches and a subtle yodeling effect at the ends of phrases) expand as the piece progresses and eventually exert their influence on large-scale aspects of melody, rhythm and even form.

Commissioned by The Aeolus Quartet

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